Wednesday, April 25, 2012
While I am fairly well-read on the subject of human childbirth, and have experienced it once, I am NOT an expert on foaling by any stretch, so I'd love to hear opinions from any of my oh-so-many readers.
I'd like to preface this with the fact that when I was pregnant with my son, I was pretty crunchy-granola about the whole thing. I took Bradley childbirth classes, where I learned that the average pregnancy for a first-time healthy baby was more like 41 and a half weeks than the 40 weeks the doctors gave as your due date, and wasn't TOO worried about it when my son decided to wait until just shy of 42 weeks to arrive. I gave birth to him at home, under water (in an inflatable wading pool in my bedroom), with two midwives, my mom, and my then-husband present.
I believe in letting nature take its course as long as things are going well, and cringed at shows like A Baby Story (is it even still on?) that just proved that the vast majority of births were over-medicalized--the mother was a minute "overdue," so the doctor wanted to induce, and because neither the doctor nor nurses could be bothered to actually STAY with the laboring mother, she had to be on continuous monitoring, which meant laying on her back, and then labor would stall, they would increase the pitocin, but the doctor was in a hurry to get to his golf game or whatever, so they would tell the mother that the labor had stalled and they had to do an "emergency" C-section, and she would end up with major surgery and SO thankful for all the scientific advances that kept her an her baby safe. *eyeroll*
Anyway, so my philosophy on foaling is the same as with human birthing. If you're not an expert yourself, have one nearby and on call at the worst, or in attendance if possible, but otherwise just butt out and let nature take its course until proven that intervention is needed.
(Unrelated to the rant I'm about to go on--it's so funny on various foaling threads I've read online when people say that "horses don't have due dates like people do." Um, people don't have due DATES, either. No one can predict to that degree of certainty. Both humans and horses should be considered to have a "due few-week-period-of-time.")
Anyway, the point of this post is that I watched a mare foal via live webcam, which was pretty cool. I'd actually had it up on my computer for a couple of days (she'd looked ready to go and the people who posted it and some commenters were all getting excited that it was time, so it was just pure luck that I happened to be at my computer a couple of days later when she finally did foal).
Once things really got going, the mare had barely a bubble of sac showing, went down on her side, rolled over, and got cast. They didn’t wait to see if she could flip on her own, but flipped her. This may have been a good thing—I’m no expert. But they had the rope in the crook of her knee, not up by her elbow, and it was the leg that was currently on top. There were two people there, but they only used a rope on the one leg. Again, I'm not an expert, but I would have tried to get both BOTTOM legs, so you would need less force on each, and the force would be pulling toward her midline instead of yanking her legs out of their sockets. Anyway, they got her flipped and disappeared from sight of the camera (out of the stall?). All seemed well…the mare got back up and continued laboring.
Only 5 minutes or so after the bubble of sac first appeared (and it was still disappearing occasionally), the mare went back down. She seemed to be working hard at labor, and everything seemed fine. Before long, two people were in the stall, at the mare’s rear end, and began PULLING on the foal. I know you don’t want to let the mare labor forever, but it had NOT been very long, and labor definitely wasn't stalled. It’s possible they saw something I didn’t see—baby presenting wrong, etc., but still.
They pulled and pulled, not always with the contractions, and it took 5-10 minutes of them pulling, with more and more people gathering in the stall (6, I think), videoing and photographing. Finally the foal was born, and rather than step away and let mother and baby bond, they began toweling off the baby. More people arrived (I think there were at least 10 now), there were two or three people messing with the baby, and the mare hadn’t even had a chance to see or sniff it.
Finally the humans stepped back a bit, and I thought they were going to let the mother and baby bond, but one person started picking at the straw bedding with a manure rake, cleaning the stall, right next to the baby. Finally the mare stood, and politely circled her baby as if to tell the humans it was HER baby and they needed to leave it alone (but she was very nice about it, no ear pinning or teeth baring, which is what I would have done if I was her). But like THREE minutes had passed and the baby hadn’t tried to stand (it was probably exhausted from getting pulled out of its mother’s uterus without the help of contractions!), and the humans couldn’t possibly stand around doing NOTHING, so they started yanking on the baby trying to get it to stand. LEAVE IT ALONE, people!
Now, maybe there was a problem (it had now been 10 minutes or so since the birth, and I don’t think the baby had stood up yet), but the baby’s instincts are probably not in a big hurry to encourage it to stand when it’s surrounded by spectators. And if there’s any sort of communication possible between mare and foal, she’s probably also telling it not to bother trying until they have some privacy, too.
After around an hour, there was finally "only" one person in there (one person too many, in my opinion), but still constantly messing with both the mare and the foal. Seriously. Leave. Them. Alone.
Again, I am not an expert, so maybe I'm off base on at least part of my ramblings. And I KNOW it must be really exciting to watch the mare who has been pregnant for nearly a year finally begin labor. And it must take all your willpower to just stand back and do nothing. But in something like 99% of cases, I'm pretty sure that's what is actually the best thing to do--nothing. Especially once the foal is born and the sac is clear of its nostrils--let its mother take care of the rest. There is plenty of time for imprinting and bonding, but that should still involve just ONE person, not a herd of people in the foaling stall, and it's my opinion that it shouldn't interfere with the mare's and foal's instincts.